The journey from baby writer to mature author is fraught with peril. Today we are going to begin a series addressing common pitfalls that can jeopardize our growth.
Years ago, I got this brilliant idea that I was going to attend law school. While studying for the LSAT, one of the largest segments happened to be logic problems. We, as dutiful wanna-be lawyers, were supposed to hone our skills in pulling apart logic problems and learn to quickly hone in on what are called “logical fallacies” (also called inductive fallacies).
There are a number of logical fallacies that are dangerous to a writer’s growth. If you have slept since your school days, a logical fallacy (or inductive fallacy) is a fallacy in an argument that mistakenly seeks to establish a causal connection when dissimilar objects or events are compared as if the same.
Huh? Yeah. Got ya on that.
All apples are fruits. An orange is a fruit ergo an orange is an apple.
Which got me to thinking, why does everyone think it is so easy to write fiction? That anyone can do it? I believe that there is a MASSIVE inductive fallacy that can ruin any writer’s progress.
Dangerous Fallacy #1—Prose and Fiction are the Same Thing
All fiction is prose, ergo all prose is fiction. Yeah…no.
According to the Encarta dictionary:
Prose— 1. language that is not poetry: writing or speech in its normal continuous form, without the rhythmic or visual line structure of poetry.
2. ordinary style of expression: writing or speech that is ordinary or matter-of-fact, without embellishment.
There is a hugely mistaken notion that the ability to write prose automatically translates into the ability to write fiction, and that prose and fiction are the same things. WRONG! WRONG! WROOOOONG!
Prose is merely one component of a hugely complex structure (fiction).
Just because a writer writes beautiful prose, in no way means she can carry off a story structure strong enough to sustain 100,000 words. Fiction, especially in reference to novels, is a highly intricate composite of many layers—characterization, dialogue, perspective, pacing, conflict, voice, setting, symbolism, arcs, themes, plot, scenes & sequels, and on and on. The skill and training required to write fiction well can be mind-blowing.
Are there some people who naturally sit down and write great novels? Sure. But Amadeus Mozart wrote his first symphony at the same age most of us were fighting over the sharp Crayons and looking under rocks for doodle bugs. Does that mean that there is something wrong with a doodle bug-hunting five-year-old? Uh, no. That is what most five-year-olds do.
Yet, when it comes to writing great fiction, we all want to be rare geniuses. We want to sit down and write our first manuscript and it be a NY Times best-selling-runaway-success. Hey, I feel you. I even had my chalet in the Riviera picked out. We are so afraid of being laughed at or failing, that we bluster ahead and don’t get a chance to enjoy the journey of going from baby writer to mature author.
We believe that because we made As on all our English papers, that we have the right makings for being the next JK Rowling or Sandra Brown. The thing is…likely we do. We are that one five-year-old in the church choir who doesn’t sound like a cat caught in a screen door. We have potential, passion and talent, but we aren’t quite ready to win American Idol.
But this logical fallacy that prose and fiction are synonymous can get us into big trouble with our pride if we aren’t careful.
In my opinion, the ability to write fine prose is like the ability to carry a tune. Intonation is a critical building block for learning to be a great music performer much like the ability to craft brilliant prose is a fundamental to becoming a great author. But carrying a tune and crafting prose are not the be-all and end-all. There are many, many more layers to learn and develop through years of struggle and practice and failure. I feel that is sometimes why agents get frustrated with many writers.
My favorite part of American Idol is the try-outs in the beginning. It’s sick, but I’m being honest. Yet how many young people show up thinking they are going to have their own record label simply because they have a “look”? Yes, “look” is important, but can you sing? Many feel that because they sing in the high school choir, that they are ready to take LA by storm. They quickly learn from the panel of judges that being a music performer is a lot harder than they bargained for.
Writing can be the same way.
But here is where we have a choice. We can puff up in pride and storm off like a diva, convinced that “Simon Cowell” (agent) doesn’t know great “singing” (writing) when he hears it. Or…we can take the constructive criticism, evaluate what we know and don’t know and where we can improve and focus on learning the craft…and then try again, and again and again. To one day grow into mature authors, we need thick skins…not skulls. LEARN from these experiences.
I think that is far easier to take criticism when we understand that prose and fiction are not the same thing. What the world views as one seamless entity, we can now see for all of its intricacies. Now we have the freedom to be baby writers and enjoy the journey to adulthood. Will some of you be protégés? Perhaps. I certainly wasn’t one. But once I realized that becoming a career author was a lot harder than pretty prose, I began to enjoy my “writer childhood.” We can enjoy the school musicals and our bit parts in My Fair Lady holding a basket of flowers because now we see them as progressive steps to a larger goal. Writers, enjoy critique. Enjoy contests and reading novels. Enjoy the landmarks along the road to publishing success. Give yourself permission to be flawed and then dust off and strive for greater. It’s okay to be a kid!
Remember, all authors are writers. Not all writers are authors, ;).
Keep on keeping on!
Until next time…
My book, of course, :D. We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. It is never too soon to start building your platform. Social media can be a time suck or a huge investment in a successful future. Nielson states that the average book published in the US sells fewer than 250 copies a year and less than 3,000 overall. Ack! I know. How can you bet the odds? With proper planning and preparation.
Also, every writer needs to run out today (unless you already subscribe) and buy the September Issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine. It’s the Big Ten Issue and probably the BEST issue of Writer’s Digest I have read in years (not that the others weren’t terrific :D). I read this magazine front to back yesterday and highlighted it until it looked like my own personal coloring book. It is colored, dog-eared and filled with sticky notes. Great, great, super terrific articles. Yeah, I am a tad excited. So go buy it. You will thank me.
And speaking of Writer’s Digest, Editor Jane Friedman has posted her weekly round-up of the best. How can I compete? So, I won’t. I will humbly defer to an expert and give my mash-ups later in the week.
Truer words have not been written, Kristen! I just finished judging an unpub contest and one of the entries described itself as “women’s fiction”. Spare me. It was nothing but lovely words strung together to describe sunbeams and views out the kitchen window. I had to break it to this writer that, while the prose was pretty, nothing was happening and her characters weren’t even alive, much less 3-D. Of course, I said this in the nicest way possible 🙂
Still, she would benefit from your post instead of wrapping herself in the cloak of “Literary fiction”. A story is a story, no matter the “high brow” aim, so you had better have a plot and interesting characters or no one but “literati” will read it!
Stepping off my soap box now!! 🙂
*rummages around in pile on desk*
This copy? Haven’t even started it yet. -.- I guess you’ve twisted my arm.
Rachel…after years of doing this I sometimes feel that “literary fiction” is code for “bad writing.” Writers too new or lazy or overwhelmed to learn the craft often use this term in hopes that they can get out of doing the hard work. Nope. Sorry. No pass here. We saged writers/editors see right through it. And the funny part is a lot of us go through that stage too, much like going through the stage of wearing every barrette we own in our hair…but either you grow out of it or people look at you funny, :D.
Hey–I still fight over the sharp crayons.
Fantastic post … inspiring words. Thanks for the encouragement, I needed this today!